Coffee is a beloved beverage enjoyed by millions of people around the world. But how does it get from the plant to the cup? Let's take a look at the journey of coffee, from its origins in Ethiopia to its final destination in your cup. Coffee grows on trees or shrubs, with cherries and coffee flowers growing on small evergreen trees or shrubs. An indomitable coffee tree can grow up to 16 feet tall, but most farmers prune them annually to a height of between 5 and 7 feet for easier harvesting.
Unprocessed coffee seeds can be sown and germinated into coffee plants, which are then moved to individual pots with carefully formulated soils for optimal growth. The seedlings are then moved to their permanent growing place, usually during the rainy season to ensure that the soil remains moist as the roots settle firmly. Once harvested, cherries are processed as soon as possible to prevent spoiling. Depending on the available resources and location, one of two methods is used.
Coffee plants are evergreen shrubs that can grow up to 15-20 feet tall, with wide, shiny leaves and simple looking white flowers similar to those of most citrus plants. The flowers eventually give way to grains, often called coffee cherries, which begin green, then ripen to yellow, orange and then red before drying. Approximately 6 weeks after pollination of the flowers, the brown cherry will develop where the flowers were located. The two main types of coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica beans need mild heat and light while Robusta beans are more resistant and robust - hence their name. Arabica beans are usually grown at higher altitudes while Robusta beans are grown at lower altitudes since they are more tolerant to warm conditions. Young coffee plants are spaced in rows so that the density varies between 1200 and 1800 plants per hectare (500 and 750 plants per acre). After harvesting, cherries are sent to a pulper to remove the outer skin, but different levels of pulp are intentionally left around the beans.
Near-boiling water is forced through the coffee bed at nine bars of atmospheric pressure in order to extract the flavor from the beans. Good quality specialty roasters pack freshly roasted coffees in specially designed bags that have a one-way valve. The infusion or immersion is carried out by combining all the water with all the coffee and letting it stand and infuse. As coffee is often grown in mountainous areas, ripe cherries are usually picked by hand instead of using mechanical harvesters. The first Arabica coffee bean plant was discovered in Ethiopia, which is where half of the world's coffee production comes from.
Once the coffee cherries are harvested, the beans are extracted from the fruit and finally roasted. Ideal average temperatures range between 15 and 24 °C for Arabica coffee and between 24 and 30 °C for Robusta. That was the beginning of the long history of coffee, with the first recorded use of coffee as a beverage in Yemen in the 15th century. To achieve such productivity, many coffee plantations were converted to this “sun-grown” methodology, which caused deforestation of large areas of Central America and other coffee growing regions. Now you know how your favorite beverage makes its way from plant to cup! Enjoy your cup of joe knowing that it has gone through an incredible journey.